Joshua was a great evangelist! After a stirring speech in which he reminded the people of Israel of God’s gracious, saving works, he calls for a faith response: “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!” How did the people respond? They boldly professed their allegiance to the Lord! “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for He is our God!” Joshua must have been thrilled! Right? Well, like Jesus (John 2:25), Joshua knew the heart of man all too well. Here was Joshua’s answer to their professed faith: “You are not able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God!!” If you think that you have it in you to worship this holy God who is jealous for His glory, then you either don’t know Him or you don’t know yourself! The history of Israel’s covenant breaking vindicated Joshua’s assessment (Joshua 24).
I think we are much like Joshua’s generation, glibly declaring our allegiance to God and thinking very little about the gravity of worshiping this holy LORD. Hebrews 12:28-29 says, “let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Joshua would no doubt give us the same warning he gave his people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God!” So, how can we offer “acceptable worship” to the holy God? He has commanded this in His Word. Indeed, Jesus said that the Father is seeking people to worship Him. He made us for His glory (Isa. 43:7). So, again, how can we, who are not able, worship Him? Jesus answers, “in Spirit and in truth.”
When the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at Jacob’s well asked Him about the legitimate place for worship, He informed her in no uncertain terms that she was not even able to worship—period. In fact, He condemned the worship of the Samaritans as culpable ignorance: “You worship what you do not know.” Many people think that God should just be happy that they even bother with Him. But Jesus says that not all worship is “acceptable worship.” Yet there is an acceptable worship, and God has given us the means to render acceptable worship to Him. Jesus goes on to say, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth” (John 4:20-24). Though some translations render “Spirit” as “spirit” (lower case), indicating the human spirit, I am fairly certain that John intends the Holy Spirit (for starters compare the close relation of the Spirit and Truth in Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). Jesus is saying that we need the Holy Spirit to subdue our false hearts (Jer. 17:9) and lead us into the truth as it is in Jesus (John 14:6; 16:12-15). The Holy Spirit proclaims the glory of Christ to our hearts, liberating us from the idols of our hearts (even the idols we call “the LORD,” cf. Exod. 32:4-5). Then, with a disclosure of the glory of the Father in the face of Jesus Christ, the Spirit leads us in acceptable worship of our God, who is a consuming fire, with reverence and awe. As the truth about Jesus is found in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, we again see the importance of worship being regulated by the Word of God and enabled by the Spirit of God. Anything less is—well—unacceptable.